War comes to ‘House of the Dragon’: ‘It’s a story about two women and it will continue to be until the end’

The second season of the ‘Game of Thrones’ spinoff delves into the confrontation between two sides of the Targaryen house. ‘We want to reward the audience for sticking with us,’ says showrunner Ryan Condal

Harry Collett, Emma D'Arcy and Oscar Eskinazi, in a scene from the second season of 'House of the Dragon.'
Harry Collett, Emma D'Arcy and Oscar Eskinazi, in a scene from the second season of 'House of the Dragon.'Theo Whiteman
Natalia Marcos

The Dance of Dragons is about to begin. On one side, the Black Council, with Rhaenyra claiming her place on the Iron Throne. On the other, the Green Council, with Aegon on the throne, backed by his mother, Alicent Hightower. The rifts within the very broken Targaryen family have turned into gaping divides, accentuated by painful deaths. Tragedy struck at the end of the first season of House of the Dragon, the series that has returned to the phenomenon that was Game of Thrones to tell the past of this saga of dragon riders. The Dance of Dragons, the civil war in the Targaryen, is imminent and inevitable.

The first of the eight episodes in the second series were released on HBO on June 16. The HBO series already proved two years ago that it had inherited much of the drawing power of Game of Thrones; one only has to remember the viral video showing windows of a New York apartment building lighting up in unison when the first episode was screened on TV. Few series today can boast of retaining the old power of TV, in which people committed to tuning in at a specific time for each week’s episode.

The death of Luke Targaryen is the trigger for season two of House of the Dragon, which begins with the characters grieving and preparing for the consequences of the tragedy. “Season one was a unique beast and challenge because it was a 30-year history in the book that we condensed into 20 years to tell over 10 episodes,” says screenwriter Ryan Condal, the showrunner of the series. “Going into season two, we’re paying off all of the things that we set up in season one. The snowball is already running down the hill, and all these characters have been established, the entrenchment on either side, who wants what, their weaknesses and strengths. Now we want to reward the audience for sticking with us and paying attention and living through many time jumps and recastings and watching the show to the end,” adds Condal, in an interview in Paris during the European presentation of the second season in early June.

Olivia Cooke, as Alice Hightower in the second season of 'House of the Dragon.'
Olivia Cooke, as Alicent Hightower in the second season of 'House of the Dragon.'

“We come from a peacetime, domestic scenario that’s focused on just one family who are all in the same place to the brink of war, with everybody spread out and far apart. We go to many more different places, and the characters are more isolated somehow,” says actress Eve Best, who plays Princess Rhaenys Targaryen.

Her words hint at another new feature of the new season: its universe and characters will expand beyond the Targaryens. The first episode, for example, begins at the Wall that protects the Seven Kingdoms from unknown dangers amid an already familiar danger: winter is coming.

Steve Toussaint and Eve Best, in an image from the second season of 'House of the Dragon.'
Steve Toussaint and Eve Best, in an image from the second season of 'House of the Dragon.'

House of the Dragon stands out for its strong female point of view, with two women at the center of the story, played by Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke. Condal explains that this feminine focus was in the very DNA of the show.

“The concept of the show was to base it around Alicent and Rhaenyra. The very first novella that George [R. R. Martin] published in this world, even long before Fire and Blood, was called The Princess and the Queen, and it was the story of Alicent beginning to go to war against Rhaenyra to try to replace her as the heir to the throne with her firstborn son, who was Viserys’ son, and it put these two women in conflict. We were always fascinated by the idea of these two very strong-willed women who were living in a very, very patriarchal aristocratic society, who even though they were privileged and powerful, were very limited simply by the fact that they were women,” explains Condal, who sees in Rhaenyra an example of “classical modern feminism” and in Alicent, an example of a woman who uses her power to favor another man, her son. “This is a show about Alicent and Rhaenyra, about two women, and their story through the Dance of the Dragons, and will continue to be until the end,” adds the screenwriter.

Emma D'Arcy and Matt Smith play Rhaenyra and Daemon Targaryen.
Emma D'Arcy and Matt Smith play Rhaenyra and Daemon Targaryen.

Eve Best — whose character is known as the Queen Who Never Was because, although she was supposed to inherit the throne by birth, the crown went to her brother as she was a woman — laughs lightly at the idea of linking House of the Dragon with feminism.

Post-#MeToo, there’s a lot more sensitivity, respect and interest in the female characters. We have these women in this intensely macho environment, which is something that is very current with what our reality is right now... I don’t necessarily know if it is 100% feminist show, but it’s certainly getting there,” reflects the British actress.

Being part of a production of the caliber of House of the Dragon can be overwhelming. Tom Glynn-Carney, who plays King Aegon II, tries not to think about it too much. “If you get caught up in the hysteria, the expectations and the weight of responsibility, it can be overwhelming, and it can be to the detriment of your performance,” he says.

At his side, Phia Saban, who plays Queen Consort Helaena Targaryen, agrees. “For me, the hardest part is my expectation on myself, isolating myself from all that noise and focusing on the fact that we’re just making a good TV show at the end of the day.”

Tom Glynn-Carney, como el rey Aegon II en la segunda temporada de 'La casa del dragón'.
Tom Glynn-Carney, as King Aegon II.

“The physical demands of the shoot itself, for me, are very challenging. The hours are really long and the scale of it all is enormous... Just having the stamina to keep going can sometimes be quite challenging,” responds Eve Best.

Sitting next to her is her fictional husband, Steve Toussaint, who plays Lord Corlys Velaryon, the Sea Serpent: “I try to treat it like any other job. Probably the most difficult part about series like this is the exposure. And even that, for me, isn’t that bad, because if you close your eyes and think about my character, you just see a big wig and a beard, very few people can remember my face.”

While in the first season Ryan Condal had the help of director Miguel Sapochnik, as co-showrunner, this time he has commanded the series alone. He flashes a half smile when asked about the solo experience. “It’s a whirlwind. Sometimes I have to step back and smell the roses. It is an all-consuming process. I moved my family to Europe four years ago to make the show, and my kids are now being raised in a different country. It’s very rewarding, but there is a cost to it,” he says.

The second season was shot over nearly six months and took the team to locations in England, Wales and Spain: the streets of the Spanish cities of Cáceres and Trujillo will once again recreate the city of King’s Landing, as was seen in the first season and in Game of Thrones.

Emma D'Arcy, en una imagen de la segunda temporada de 'La casa del dragón'.
Emma D'Arcy, in an image from the second season of 'House of Dragon.'Theo Whiteman

House of the Dragon is entering the second season with the peace of mind of knowing that a third season has been confirmed. Condal and his team of scriptwriters are very clear about how the story that George R. R. Martin wrote in Fire and Blood will develop on the screen.

“Very early in the writing process, we decide how far we will advance the plot. We’ve outlined the entire story of the Dance of the Dragons into events and a timeline, and we’re always looking at it as we try to figure out which swath of this history are we covering, how do we want to take the character’s own journey so that they evolve and change and how to end in a place that not only resolves that season story but then sets up an even bigger stakes saga for the next one. Because George is such a brilliant writer, the way the book is outlined and structured, it does give you those natural peaks and valleys as the war grows and gets more and more bloody and violent and out of control,” says the screenwriter.

Why do the actors of House of the Dragon believe that the Game of Thrones universe has captured so many millions of followers? “It’s pure escapism. It’s got all the elements of a good story, love, betrayal, violence, sex, excitement, drama, and all of that is in abundance,” says Tom Glynn-Carney.

“It’s a combination of these intensely complicated, crazy, obsessively fascinating characters and storylines, with that incredible world. And dragons,” adds Eve Best.

Olivia Cooke and Ewan Mitchell, in the second season of the series.
Olivia Cooke and Ewan Mitchell, in the second season of the series.Theo Whiteman

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

Tu suscripción se está usando en otro dispositivo

¿Quieres añadir otro usuario a tu suscripción?

Si continúas leyendo en este dispositivo, no se podrá leer en el otro.

¿Por qué estás viendo esto?


Tu suscripción se está usando en otro dispositivo y solo puedes acceder a EL PAÍS desde un dispositivo a la vez.

Si quieres compartir tu cuenta, cambia tu suscripción a la modalidad Premium, así podrás añadir otro usuario. Cada uno accederá con su propia cuenta de email, lo que os permitirá personalizar vuestra experiencia en EL PAÍS.

En el caso de no saber quién está usando tu cuenta, te recomendamos cambiar tu contraseña aquí.

Si decides continuar compartiendo tu cuenta, este mensaje se mostrará en tu dispositivo y en el de la otra persona que está usando tu cuenta de forma indefinida, afectando a tu experiencia de lectura. Puedes consultar aquí los términos y condiciones de la suscripción digital.

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS